Greater Manchester publishes case for new investment-led, non-charging Clean Air Plan

June 29th, 2022

The case for a new investment-led, non-charging Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan has been published.

The Case for a new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan: Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan to tackle Nitrogen Dioxide Exceedances at the Roadside sets out evidence supporting an investment-led Clean Air Plan with no charging Clean Air Zone as the best solution to address the roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution problem.

It will be submitted to government to meet a 1 July deadline, once it has been considered by the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee (GM AQAC).

Earlier this month (Wednesday 1 June), Environment Secretary George Eustice wrote to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Councillor Andrew Western, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) portfolio lead for Clean Air, suggesting Greater Manchester consider a smaller charging Clean Air Zone covering Manchester city centre.

However, all of Greater Manchester’s political leaders are clear that clean air compliance should be achieved through an investment-led, non-charging approach. Unlike the previous charging Clean Air Zone scheme defined by government guidance, the investment-led , non-charging Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan seeks to attend to the cost-of-living crisis – through avoiding the use of charging – and will actively consider the impacts of the pandemic, particularly on Manchester city centre, where Greater Manchester needs to support ongoing recovery due to changes in economic activity and the impact of wider global economic instability on supply chains.

The approach is set out in the Case for a new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan, which includes:

  • Evidence that economic conditions have deteriorated significantly since the previous Clean Air Plan was agreed in summer 2021, with businesses in Greater Manchester now dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, higher inflation and high vehicle fuel costs.
  • New analysis which shows how an investment-led approach could see financial support targeted towards upgrading vehicles which frequently travel through locations where modelling shows exceedances of legal NO2 limits might otherwise continue.
  • A commitment to review local policy changes, such as goods vehicle access controls, alongside regulatory measures such as hackney carriage and private hire vehicle licensing standards to accelerate fleet upgrades.
  • A proposal to work with government to agree the targeted use of the Clean Air Plan automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to support identification of vehicles that could be upgraded, and also for potential law enforcement activity related to the detection of crime.

The submission also addresses concerns that the price of new and used commercial vehicles is rising, making upgrade less affordable, with anecdotal evidence that the trade-in value of Euro 5 and older hackney cabs is falling, as more cities bring in tighter licensing standards and/or Clean Air Zones. Some sectors potentially in scope for the Clean Air Plan have still not recovered from the impacts of the pandemic, including the coach sector, with lockdown restrictions meaning that many were forced to stop operating for long periods.

Tackling the health impact of poor air quality remains a priority for Greater Manchester but the previous Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan became unworkable due to changes in the global vehicle supply chain linked to the pandemic and the emerging cost-of-living crisis. It would have imposed daily charges for non-compliant vehicles that owners might not have been able to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The Case for a New Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan outlines how Greater Manchester would meet air quality legal limits in a way which is fair to local people and businesses and does not create the risk of financial hardship.

“Our city is still recovering from the pandemic and we don’t want the government to level-down our city-centre with their proposals to charge businesses from across Greater Manchester who have to travel through or work within the proposed charging area.

“Even a small charging Clean Air Zone would result in a considerable financial burden for the many businesses moving products and people through Manchester city centre, providing a significant setback in economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic, and during a cost-of-living crisis.

“The government wants us to charge Greater Manchester businesses at a time when they can least afford it.”

The draft Case for a New Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan has been published in a report ahead of the GM AQAC’s meeting on Friday 1 July.

Members of the committee – comprising elected representatives of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities – are asked to note that the draft Case will be submitted to government that day.

The next GM AQAC meeting will be asked to confirm the submission as final and notify the Secretary of State for the Environment, subject to any comments from Greater Manchester local authorities which will also consider the report in July, according to their local governance arrangements.

The GM AQAC will be asked to agree that the next stage of the new plan will be developed through intensive engagement with business and the community.

Councillor Andrew Western, GMCA portfolio lead for Clean Air, said: “The health impact of dirty air is a primary concern for Greater Manchester, and we remain determined to tackle it in a way which does not create financial hardship for local people.

“We have been listening to the views of business leaders and, given the poor economic outlook for the UK as a whole and Greater Manchester – coupled with increasing evidence of the harm poor air quality causes – this is a delicate balance.

“Based on the evidence, including the impact that a charging Clean Air Zone would have on their ability to make a living, and the risk to jobs and livelihoods, we have had the opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of the Clean Air scheme which we now feel is fit for purpose and fair to the people of our city-region.

“We will now move into a period of more intensive engagement with business and the community to bring together the detailed policy of the new Clean Air Plan.” The ten Greater Manchester local authorities have been directed by government to bring NO2 air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible and by 2026 at the latest.

In support of the Clean Air Plan, Greater Manchester will also ask for a commitment from government to develop an appropriate regulatory approach that that will legally require all private hire journeys booked in Greater Manchester to be undertaken by a driver and vehicle which are both licensed by one of the ten Greater Manchester local authorities.

Out-of-area operation currently allows drivers to evade fair, safe and democratically determined local licensing standards. This would give local authorities stronger regulatory tools to improve the emission standards of all private hire fleets operating in Greater Manchester.